Jim Johnston, who co-founded the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) in 1973 out of a trailer chained to a truck stop's light pole in the Kansas City suburb of Grain Valley, Mo., helped build it into to an organization with more than 160,000 members, and served as its president and CEO for nearly 45 years, died yesterday at his home in Grain Valley after a year-long battle with lung cancer. He was 78.
Johnston, a truck driver by training, helped start OOIDA after recognizing that thousands of owner-operators did not have a unified voice to lobby lawmakers and regulators about issues impacting their lives and livelihoods. The catalyst was a visit to Washington by a group of frustrated owner-operators concerned that their industry was being crippled by soaring diesel fuel prices from the Arab oil embargo in the early 1970s.
The vast majority of U.S. trucking is composed of fleets with fewer than 5 trucks. Within that enormous group, most are owner-operators with one truck.
Johnston continued as OOIDA president and CEO until his death. Despite his illness, he remained an active force in OOIDA affairs and trucking issues in general, according to Norita Taylor, a spokeswoman for the group. Johnston's last battle, trying to thwart the federal government's plans to require Electronic Logging Devices (ELD) to be installed in virtually every truck in the U.S., ended with the mandate taking effect last Dec. 18, despite OOIDA's two-year effort to block it in the courts and Congress. Johnston, who bitterly opposed the rule as unconstitutional, costly and unnecessary, called it the most damaging regulation ever to be foisted on the trucking industry.
OOIDA and the American Trucking Associations (ATA), which represents the interests of larger fleets, frequently clashed on policy issues. For example, ATA supported the ELD mandate, in part because it believed the rule would encourage safe driving behavior and partly because many of its members had installed electronic logs in their cabs long before the mandate took effect.
In a statement, Robert Voltmann, president and CEO of the Transportation Intermediaries Association (TIA), a group representing freight brokers and third-party logistics (3PL) providers, called Johnston a "fixture within the transportation industry" and a "force to be reckoned with." ATA President and CEO Chris Spear said in a separate statement that Johnston "was a passionate leader for drivers and the industry, advocating issues that helped build this great nation. Jim never strayed from who he was and who he represented—truckers."